Slab Pottery Templates: A Great Way to Generate New Forms

Generating Ideas Using Slab Pottery Templates


Using slab pottery templates is a great way to consistently build a form over and over again. But there are more benefits than just that. Andrew Avakian makes slab pottery templates to help generate new slab built forms. Andrew creates maquettes of possible new pieces using tagboard (thick paper) and then tweaks them until he creates the desired form. Then he builds the piece in clay.

In this post, an excerpt from the May 2017 issue of Ceramics Monthly, Andrew shares how he makes a box using paper templates for ceramics. With Andrew’s technique, you can develop great new forms!  –Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.

PS: Check out the May 2017 issue of Ceramics Monthly to see Andrew finish this form and learn how he refines his surfaces and adds color to the piece.

The Process: Slab Prep

The template for a box is relatively simple because the sides have no curvature. I like to make the top of the box larger than the bottom so that the sides gently slope downward at a slight angle. I start by deciding the proportions (H × W × D) of the top and bottom of the box and draw the template for the sides to match (1).

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Measure and cut the slab pottery templates

1. Measure and cut the slab pottery templates, then build forms using the paper templates until you come up with one that you like.

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Using Slab Pottery Templates to Assemble Forms

I assemble the slabs to form the bottom and sides of the box using slip (3), and rib the joints together on the outside of the box using a serrated rib (4). Next, I add coils to the joints on the inside of the box and smooth the coils using my finger and water. I place the slab that will become the lid onto the walls of the box and rib it into the form, smoothing and rounding it to create a domed lid (5). I allow the lid to set up, wrapped in plastic, overnight or until it holds its convex shape when flipped over (see 6).

slab pottery templates

2. Lightly press the template edges into the slab to create impressions indicating where you should cut the slab.

slab pottery templates

3. Cut out the parts of the box, score the edges and begin to assemble the box.

slab pottery templates

4. Use a serrated rib, and press the joints together so they are secure.

slab pottery templates 5

5. With the main form of the box created, begin to shape the lid.

Next, I take the lid off the box, lay it on a piece of foam, and score the edges. I flip the lid over and attach it to the top of the walls (6) with slip and rib the sides of the lid to round them into the body of the box. If needed, I add a coil to fill in any gaps between the lid and sides (7). I blend the coil into the surface, then texture the entire surface with a serrated rib. I blend the coil into the surface, then texture the entire surface with a serrated rib.

slab pottery templates 6

6. After the lid has slumped slightly in the box and firmed up enough to hold its shape, flip it over and attach it to the box form.

slab pottery templates 7

7. To retain a smooth connection between the lid and the box form, add a coil to the seam.

Cutting the Lid

Now I can decide on the size of the lid and make a template out of tag board to help draw a straight line around the box. I use a sharp knife to make a 45° incision into the box along the line. Using a banding wheel, and keeping the angle of the knife consistent, I follow the line until the top is separated from the bottom (8). I flip the lid upside down onto a piece of foam, and roll out a coil to finish the joint inside the lid (9). Next, I use a serrated tool to refine the newly cut edges of the lid and box. I use newspaper to keep the lid and box from sticking together and leave the lid on the box until bone dry.

slab pottery templates 8

8. Now that the surface of the box has been created, trace a line for the lid with a template.

slab pottery templates 9

9. Take the newly separated lid off of the box and add a coil to the joint inside the lid.

**First published in 2017.
  • Beth W.

    I use the bags that dog, cat and bird seed come it. They are really tough and easy to store. Put them on a bulletin board to store. They wipe off easily which is handy if you use more than one kind of clay.

  • Suzanne F.

    Hi Helen I’m in Oz too. I use the plastic covers from books made up of plastic sleeves. You can buy them at Office Works or I get mine from the local recycling centre. The covers a reasonably flexible, easily cut with scissors, easy to write on and you can join them with duct tape for larger sizes. Unfortunately being plastic they will last forever.

  • @Helen B, It’s also called roofing felt. I’m not sure if they have it in Australia, but the benefit of it is that it is quite sturdy, can take being wet and doesn’t disintegrate. ONce you have a good template, you can reuse it over and over again. I Googled this and you could try looking for Asphalt Shingles in Australia. They called it Asphalt impregnated roofing felt. You may be able to ask a builder if they can give you scraps. I’ve built larger planters etc by using the tar paper (I’m in Canada) to not only cut out a template, but to support the clay while you put the pieces together. You press the tar paper into your rolled out clay and cut out your shape and the tar paper stays stuck to the clay. That way you don’t have to wait until the clay is drier, thus avoiding the issue of the seams not adhering well.

  • Stephen D.

    The tar paper is actually roofing material roofing material you can purchase at a home improvement store. It comes on a roll and will provide you enough to last for years.

  • Love this box. I am a beginner and am going to try it. How thick do you think the clay slab is? And is the clay terracotta?

  • I see many American potters referring to using tar paper as reuseable template material. Does anyone know if I can get tar paper in Australia? or is there a preferred alternative to tar paper ……what makes tar paper ideal for this purpose?

    • Suzanne F.

      Hi Helen I’m in Oz too. I use the plastic covers of students plastic sleeve folders available at Officeworks for about 99 cents. I buy mine at the local recycling centre.

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